Senator Dick Durbin visits the New Philadelphia National Historic Site.
August 10. 2023 Barry, IL: The New Philadelphia Association (NPA) hosted a visit by Senator Dick Durbin at the New Philadelphia National Historic Site near Barry, Illinois on August 7, 2023. New Philadelphia was the first town in the United States founded and legally registered by an African American, Free Frank McWorter.
Senator Durbin, along with Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congressman Darin LaHood spearheaded and staunchly supported the bi-partisan legislation signed by President Biden in December of 2022 which made New Philadelphia the 424TH unit of the National Park Service.
NPA President Phillip Bradshaw welcomed Senator Durbin who met with members of the New Philadelphia Association, including Gerald McWorter, Vice President, who is a great-great grandson of Free Frank. Mike Ward and Tim Good from the National Park Service were also in attendance.
Bradshaw thanked Senator Durbin for his unwavering support of the bipartisan effort to become a unit of the National Park Service and gave a brief overview of the site’s history as a place where 30 years before the Civil War people of different colored skin lived together, worked together and went to school together.
Gerald McWorter shared his perspective as a descendant of Free Frank, who not only bought his own freedom and that of his family members but helped others to freedom as part of the Underground Railroad. McWorter stated that the story of New Philadelphia is a story of freedom, which has evolved from a family story to a story for the nation.
Senator Durbin commended the New Philadelphia Association for its dedication and stewardship of the site and called New Philadelphia “an amazing story”. He also encouraged NPA to continue to tell the story, the whole story.
“We should know our history, the truth of it, even if painful,” Durbin said. “With the New Philadelphia National Historic Site, Illinois has an opportunity to tell the amazing
truth of the history of the first town established and platted by an African American prior to the Civil War. I will tell my kids and grandkids so they understand what we’ve been through as a Nation and the amazing stories, like New Philadelphia, that broke the mold. We must continue to preserve, honor, and share the story of New Philadelphia with each generation to come.”
Mike Ward, National Park Service deputy regional director for facilities and operations, announced that the certification of the land and insurance on all the titles was expected to be competed that day, allowing the process of the acquisition of the land to continue. The next step is an environmental site assessment.
Before leaving New Philadelphia, Senator Durbin viewed the wayside exhibits and pollinator garden at the kiosk, and experienced the Augmented Reality Walking Trail, an innovative self-guided tour of the site.
The support of Senator Durbin and the National Park Service designation acknowledge the contributions of African Americans to our country’s history. As a place where African Americans lived and worked alongside European Americans during an era of extreme racial strife, New Philadelphia, the story of founder Frank McWorter and his family will inspire present and future generations.